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  • Drafting Away from It All
  • Lucas Marcoplos (bio)

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Figure 1.

Author Lucas Marcoplos fit just about every other stereotype of white southern identity, and felt duty-bound to journey into the world of NASCAR—like these veteran fans at the Nashville Superspeedway. All photographs courtesy of Douglas Conway.

[End Page 33]

I loved sweet tea, fried chicken, and pulled pork sandwiches. I drove an American-made car and enjoyed old country music. I had a fishing license and drank domestic beer, preferably cheap, on a regular basis. I lived in Nashville, and to the outsider I was living a life in accordance with my geography.

Since the antenna broke on my car's radio, I had been limited to listening to only one station. It was dedicated to sports talk, and inevitably the subject of NASCAR would come up. I would normally have just changed the station, but silence was my only other option, so I listened. It was alienating. I had no idea what a "restrictor plate" was. I thought Daytona was for spring break. I had seen folks clad in NASCAR clothes and stickers of Calvins pissing on Fords my whole life, but the shirts walked away and the stickers drove off. The NASCAR talk on the radio followed me, to my mind repeatedly affirming the devastating reality that I lacked understanding of an important southern cultural tradition. A dark secret hid itself under my overt appreciation for barbecue and bluegrass: I knew next to nothing about NASCAR. Something had to be done.

Two weeks later, my friend Doug and I were headed east on Interstate-40 towards the Nashville Superspeedway, thirty miles from Nashville proper, the site of the NASCAR Busch Series Pepsi 300. In Lebanon we exited from Interstate-40 onto 840, a four lane highway bordered by limestone and livestock. I started to speed a little bit.

On one side of the road, a shirtless man with a Confederate flag bandanna on his head was stooping over the engine of his Pontiac Sunfire, which was spewing out vapor from the radiator. On the other side of the road, the top of the track's grandstand peeked over the blown out limestone wall that lined the highway. It was the only structure in sight, standing powerfully in juxtaposition to the virtually flat landscape. The $125 million track, which opened in 2001, is one-point-three miles in length and can hold around thirty thousand fans. It was built so that it might be expanded to hold up to one hundred and fifty thousand, in case the Nextel series, the biggest of the races, decides to have an event there.

I exited the highway and was directed, along with a throng of other cars, through thousands of cones, set up in no particular order, that somehow or another led to the parking area, an expansive field of grass behind the grandstand. Most of the cars parked in it were fairly new models, and most were American. We found the closest spot, about a quarter mile from the track, and parked. Worried about the amount of beer we would be allowed to bring inside, Doug and I decided to lighten the load of our cooler and enjoy the seventy-degree March day by having a Natural Light.

Alcohol was a crucial catalyst in the creation of stock car racing. During prohibition, and for some time after, bootleggers would modify their cars in order to [End Page 34] avoid trouble from law enforcement. The bootleggers became proficient mechanics, and during daylight hours they had no use for their cars. In order to kill time before their next bootlegging run, they would often race each other for bragging rights or money. Inevitably, locals would hear about the races and come to watch, no doubt enjoying the same whiskey that the fledgling racers would smuggle later that night. The winner of the first real NASCAR race, which occurred in 1949, was still bootlegging and was disqualified due to extra modifications he had made in order to outrun police the night before.


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Figure 2.

NASCAR regularly attracts tens...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 33-41
Launched on MUSE
2006-03-06
Open Access
No
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